Kids Get More Exercise Than Adults Realize

From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 4, 2001 -- Contrary to popular opinion, most kids don't spend all day and all night channel surfing, exploring the World Wide Web or playing their favorite video games.

Children actually get more exercise than is currently recommended -- not less. So it may be time to raise the activity recommendations, given the current rate of obesity and diabetes in children, say researchers who reviewed dozens of studies from around the world.

On average, children spend more than an hour a day doing some sort of low-intensity physical activity. That's about 30 minutes more than what's called for by the American College of Sports Medicine and the CDC, according to a study done at the State University of New York at Buffalo and published in the September issue of Pediatrics. The study also reports that each day, children rack up another 30 minutes of higher intensity activity.

Still, rates of obesity in children continue to soar, and, alarmingly, obesity-related diseases -- including type 2 diabetes (which often occurs in overweight adults) -- are increasing rapidly in children.

"Indeed, kids are getting more activity than they get credit for [and] people were coming up with guidelines and recommendations without actually knowing how much physical activity kids are getting in the first place," study author James N. Roemmich, PhD, tells WebMD. He is an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Buffalo in Buffalo, N.Y.

Now that people are gaining a better grasp of daily child activity, Roemmich says, it may be time to advise they get even more, perhaps 2 to 2.5 hours of it throughout the day.

So how can you get your kids to do more throughout the day?

"Now that the school year is starting, they can try to be active on the playground for 10-15 minutes during recess, and obviously after school is an ideal time to get some exercise, and then they can go for a walk with mom and dad after dinner, and, of course, by participating in physical education class in school," Roemmich tells WebMD.

To arrive at their findings, researchers reviewed 26 studies of nearly 2,000 kids age 3 to 17. These studies measured changes in heart rate to determine the amount of daily physical activity.

That's not to say that all kids are active, he says.

"Kids are individuals, and there are kids out there sitting in front of the television or computer and playing video games and they need to be targeted," Roemmich says.

"As physical activity accumulates, so do health benefits," he says, adding that an unhealthy lifestyle in childhood has been shown to lead to heart disease, adult diabetes, and the brittle-bone disease osteoporosis later in life.

Others who read the study and commented about it for WebMD repeat the same message. "I am glad to hear that children are more active than what we gave them credit for [but] we have had about a 50% increase in obesity in the last 15 years, so we do have a problem," says Thomas J. Martin, MD, a team physician at Penn State University in State College, Penn. and a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Martin says that research has not yet pinpointed what the ideal amount of physical activity is for a child. But the evidence to date shows that physical activity in adults does have important health benefits, so encouraging physical activity in children is important, he says.

He advises kids walk to school where it's possible, and during breaks and recess, play games that get the heart working. "The key is to increase their activity and their fun so it will become a lifelong habit."